Back after a two round hiatus, I have returned to make my predictions for the 2008 Stanley Cup Final.
After going an impressive 6-2 in round one, my results slipped a little. I went 2-2 in round two, and 1-1 in the Conference Finals. That brings my 2008 playoff record to a mediocre 9-5.
If you recall, I originally had the Anaheim Ducks defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final. I guess I can take solace in the fact that I accurately predicted one half of the equation.
I had the Wings bowing out to the Ducks in the West Final, but I admit I may have been analyzing the playoffs through orange-tinted glasses.
I allowed my fanship for the Ducks to control my predictions, something an objective, respectable hockey journalist should never do.
In my defense, many hockey pundits were fooled to believe the Ducks could do well in these playoffs, and not many thought they would be defeated so handily in the first round by Dallas.
Alas, after admitting my flaw, I will focus on this series, which as I'm sure you know by now is being regarded as one of the most supreme matchups in recent Cup Final memory.
The matchups have been analyzed a hundred times over by experts across the continent.
We've all heard about the potent firepower on both sides (Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Holmstrom vs. Crosby, Malkin, Sykora, Hossa); the superior goaltending of Osgood and Fleury.
Most agree that in those two categories the matchup is pretty much even.
The edge has been given to the Wings on defense because they possess speed, strength, and puckhandling ability that the Penguins have yet to face so far this postseason.
I'd like to focus on one matchup that hasn't been explored in any coverage I've seen—the coaching.
It cannot be ignored that Mike Babcock is one of the premier coaches in the NHL. He took an overachieving Ducks team to the Stanley Cup Final in 2003 and took the Wings to at least the West Final in back-to-back seasons.
That means in the past five seasons, he's been into the third round three times, a pretty impressive feat. He is a respected coach around the league and has shown that he can get the most out of his talented roster.
On the flip side, the Penguins are led by Michael "Bulldog" Therien, who has garnered a reputation as being a tough-love kind of coach who likes to push his youngsters to allow them to perform to the best of their abilities.
And boy do these kids have abilities.
Neither team has faced much controversy at all during the postseason. The Wings have come closest when they switched their starting goaltender in the first round against Nashville.
After blowing a 2-0 series lead, they went to Osgood who responded by winning nine straight games. His playoff record is 10-2.
The Penguins have virtually breezed through the playoffs by sweeping Ottawa, then going up 3-0 on both New York and Philadelphia. They took a one-game layoff in both rounds before finishing them in five.
Some people believe that the Penguins have purposely been blowing game four, so that they don't have to face a longer layoff. At this point, I don't disagree with the Penguins if they do that.
Remember, taking it easy in the final game of the season and finishing in second place has worked out pretty well for them so far.
Back to the coaching matchup, I think the coach that makes the best adjustments over the course of the series will be victorious.
Both teams have won games one and two in all three rounds. One of these teams is going to lose game one for the first time, and how they react to trailing the series will be key.
Hopefully for all hockey fans, it will be a back and forth series in terms of wins. With so many series going to 3-0, it will certainly drain the energy from the fans that the week-long hype has created.
If either team wins both of the first two games, the series could be done quicker than we'd like.
In the end, I think the Wings’ superior defense will be the deciding factor in what promises to be an excellent championship round. Red Wings in seven.
**Note** I will be back later in the week to examine some of the offseason happenings so far with regards to the two teams I regularly write for, the Leafs and the Ducks.